North Philly workforce initiative at Temple receives $2.6-million donation

Temple academic departments and community organizations partner to boost employment.

Ulicia Lawrence-Oladeinde, director of community education program at Temple’s Office of Community Relations stands outside her office on Sept. 13. | JEREMY ELVAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

In 2018, Philadelphia’s unemployment rate was 6.2 percent, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

At the same time, Shirley Moy, co-director of the Lenfest North Philadelphia Workforce Initiative at Temple, began working on a year-long research and development plan on North Philadelphia employment. 

Now, the initiative, a community-based project of local residents, employers and Temple staff, is rolling out its full workforce development plan after receiving a $2.6-million donation from the Lenfest Foundation, a local charitable trust started by the late Gerry Lenfest, a former university trustee.

The development plan will create employment opportunities for North Philadelphia residents in Temple’s eight surrounding zip codes by partnering with 16 different community-based organizations, Moy said. The organizations began meeting to strategize for their plans on Sept. 25. 

“The university can’t do it all,” Moy said. “We have to have partners to do this work, and there are already partners in this community doing great work. So the question on our minds was how do we expand and support what they do.” 

It includes organizations like the Electrical Association of Philadelphia, a non-profit trade association for electrical contractors, JEVS Human Services, a Jewish career readiness organization, the Steppingstone Scholars, an educational nonprofit, and the Maternity Care Coalition, a coalition for pregnant women and families. 

 North Philadelphia represents a diverse group of people, according to Philadelphia Works, the workforce development board for the City of Philadelphia.   

English is a second language for about 7 percent of residents. One-in-five residents have disabilities,  Philadelphia Works reported. They also found that the area of focus has seen over 23,200 formerly incarcerated citizens, or individuals who were formerly incarcerated, in the past six years.

Accommodating these groups is a critical part of the plan’s strategy, Moy said. 

The organizations will be paired with correlating Temple departments, forming 10 different strategic partnerships to target key demographics in need of job support in the area, she said. 

The department of Spanish and Portuguese will partner with Congreso de Latinos Unidos Inc., a national organization with a chapter in North Philadelphia that seeks to bolster economic self-sufficiency for Latino residents. This will meet a demand for bilingual workers in the health and human service sector, and provide the formal Spanish language skills needed to be a professional translator, Moy added. 

Another partnership will be between Temple’s Center for Bioethics, Urban Health and Policy and Called to Serve, a community development corporation focused on revitalizing local businesses and households. 

Pastor Jeffrey Harley, executive director of Called to Serve, said the initiative’s funding, along with his organization’s “boots-on-the-ground” approach, is key to connecting residents with meaningful employment opportunities.

“The best anti-poverty program is a job,” he said. “An even better anti-poverty program is a good job, but the best anti-poverty program is a career that you are passionate about that provides benefits.” 

Temple’s Pan-African Students Community Education Program will partner with the Center for Employment Opportunities. The partnership will support citizens who were formerly incarcerated after employment is secured, ensuring that they are paid every day and have check-ins with new hires, said Ulicia Lawrence-Oladeinde, director of community education at Temple’s Office of Community Relations, who runs PASCEP.

Making information available in one place is critical in connecting residents, especially formerly incarcerated citizens, to substantial opportunities, Lawrence-Oladeinde said. 

“We make sure we are in a position to share information with the community to make it known what is available to them,” she added.

Amina Wright, 40, and Shauntae Williams, 37, who live between 15th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue, said more job services are needed for residents in the Temple area.

“I work two jobs and get zero benefits on top of paying $700 for rent, taking care of my aunt and I don’t get no food stamps neither,” Wright said. “After my check come, I have like 50 cents after paying all that stuff.”

Williams added that Temple has a responsibility to help residents.

“They need to play a big part, because everything around here now is Temple,” Williams said. “We can’t even afford these properties no more. It ain’t right.”

Temple has an opportunity to serve as an anchor institution to forge meaningful partnerships with local organizations, Moy said. 

“I love that our approach focuses on change through collective impact,” she added. “Often in the nonprofit world we are fighting for the same pennies, but what this program represents is partnership.” 

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